Good Cop, Bad Cop

It says a lot about me that it took so long to get there, but one of the most important political shifts of my life was when I came to realise that the police are bad and should be abolished. Once you know that, it’s hard not to be amazed by how much work goes into convincing us that the police are, first, on our side and, second, actually good at solving crimes. I’ve never been much of  a once for police procedurals, but middle class peer pressure eventually sucked me into watching Luther and True Detective (I’ve just finished season 1 of True Detective, so no spoilers for season 2 please). What’s interesting about both shows is the way they lean into some of the most powerful critiques of the police: they’re corrupt, they’re violent, they encourage and enable the worst kinds of toxic masculinity, they’re actually pretty bad people on the whole. But they do so precisely in service of the basic beliefs that enable us to continue supporting and enabling policing. Sure, both shows say, the police are terrible human beings; but they’re our terrible human beings, and however bad they are, the bad guys they’re fighting are far, far worse. Sure, the police might break rules, steal, commit violence, break every possible code of conduct. But they’re doing it because, at the end of the day, they’re profoundly committed to protecting us from bad guys so unimaginably evil that everyone of those transgressions is justified. It’s a special kind of high-quality drama ironic distance. You’re watching good TV here, award-winning TV, so no one’s going to pander to you to try to kid you that the police are clean faced angels: we all know that’s not true. Instead you, the discerning viewer, are going to confront the gritty and horrifying underbelly of society; face up to the messy business of law enforcement where the evils the police are fighting on your behalf are so horrifying, so watershed-unfriendly, that the hard truth is that we have to let the police get their hands dirty. You’re right! All cops are bastards. But they’re our bastards, and they’re going to protect us by catching the real bad guys, even if they have to break a few rules along the way.

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